Ever since humanity first looked up to the night sky, we’ve been obsessed with what lies beyond the stars. For centuries astrologers have observed, speculated and discovered secrets about the solar system. And once technology advanced it became possible to physically explore the Milky Way. Space has always played a role within LEGO, whether as part of the Classic Space theme or through individual sets celebrating NASA achievements.
Braving the stars are astronaut minifigures equipped to fly brick spacecraft and explore distant planets. Who was the first astronaut minifigure? When did LEGO go to space? And what did Benny from The LEGO Movie do? Join Blocks, the LEGO magazine for fans, hit the thrusters and blast off through the evolution of the LEGO astronaut minifigure…
Unsurprisingly the first LEGO astronaut comes from the beloved Classic Space theme in 1978, making it one of the first LEGO minifigures of all time. 462 Mobile Rocket Launcher introduced the first two colours, red and white, with the minifigures sporting new air tank elements. The so-called astronaut helmets of these initial minifigures are exactly the same as for police officers or knights at that time because there was a limited number of pieces that could be made for these minifigures.
This simplistic yet charming design would be kept for the entirety of Classic Space, though different colours would soon be added. In 1979 the astronaut minifigure became available in orange and yellow, with the different colours all thematically joined by the iconic logo of a spaceship circling the moon. The blue astronaut didn’t come along until 1984 and was first included in 6824 Space Dart, which looks reminiscent of a microfighter X-Wing before microfighters were even a thing.
With the arrival of Futuron and and their rivals Blacktron in 1987 came a slight change. To differentiate these factions in the sub-themes, some new printing was needed. These bad-guy astronauts are similar to their smiley faced cousins, but incorporate opaque visors into their helmets and have utility belts printed onto the torsos. Futuron did something a little different, printing the astronauts with two-toned spacesuits, which made them look more like varsity jackets, but it was a start.
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The next big change comes during the 1990s when Blacktron returned with new branding and M-Tron arrived (there were a lot of Trons back then). Suddenly the astronauts had massive logos to denote their faction and could even come with jetpack pieces. Accessories for the astronauts were starting to become more realistic and mirroring real space technology advancements. By the late 1990s, minifigures were also starting to get more detailed face printing, including microphones to speak to their space-faring comrades.
After over two decades of yearly space related releases, the theme took a break when the LEGO Group faced bankruptcy around the millennium and didn’t return until 2007 with Mars Mission. It really embraced futuristic design (the villain was a squid alien), and the astronauts had plenty of sci-fi details. They were finally given gold visors, matching those worn by real astronauts to protect from the sun’s powerful rays. The next big improvement would be in 2011 as the minifigures finally got specially moulded helmets for Alien Conquest, which were far better proportioned.
Then in 2014 The LEGO Movie arrived and brought Benny the spaceman. The Classic Space character was an immediate hit and rekindled the nostalgia in many fans. His minifigure was a modern take on the 1970s design, weathering his printing and having a unique helmet with a nod to the crack that so many classic pieces suffered.
The following year a wave of City sets that were made as part of a collaboration with NASA. These are still probably some of the most accurate astronaut minifigures yet, sporting specially moulded air-tank and helmet elements alongside detailed spacesuits. They were so good they made it into 10266 Apollo Lunar Lander four years later.
Now 2022 sees past meet present. The current summer wave of City sets includes rockets and research facilities, with space technicians and astronauts aplenty. Benny has kept the Classic Space love alive as the recently announced 10497 Galaxy Explorer is bringing the original astronaut minifigure back once again as part of the 90th anniversary celebrations.
With over 40 years of astronaut minifigure history, this is one of the most enduring LEGO characters of all and we’ve only picked our stand outs. Who is your favourite? What’s your favourite Space set? Come tell us on any of the Blocks social media channels!